Trade shows have been important to B2B companies for a long time. Most firms see them as an opportunity to showcase their new products, meet with customers and generate media interest. So, while they are productive and important, I don’t often hear people describe them as “fun.” Not Karen Haefling, Vice President of Marketing at Vitamix, maker of high-performance blenders:
”The trade show was fun, our product is fun. For example, we have a celebrity chef doing demonstrations, and you get a smoothie to taste. It’s a partnership between marketing and sales at the trade show. Our goal in marketing is to drive from clear strategic objectives to clear tactics at the show, taking into account the business needs and the unique show qualities.”
Beyond fun and games, though, Vitamix engages in a lot of strategic thinking with interesting tactics. Most recently, Vitamix exhibited at shows Ambiente and International Housewares. These two very different trade shows draw distinct audiences. These characteristics, along with Vitamix’s position, implied different strategic objectives.
Growing International Distribution In Frankfort
Ambiente, in Frankfort, hails itself as the “leading international trade fair for consumer goods,” with over 4,700 exhibitors. One-third of the 140,000 attendees are from Germany, with the remainder from other parts of the world. This was the Vitamix brand’s first experience at Ambiente, and the tactics and strategy needed to fit the business situation.
Vitamix chose this show to further its strategic goal of driving international distribution. The specific goal for the show was to drive traffic to the booth, even though the booth location wasn’t ideal.
Using some creative thinking, Vitamix was able to drive traffic by using hallway spaces to promote the booth. Salespeople handed out smoothies and organic apples that had the booth code imprinted on them using edible ink.
Ambiente show organizers were impressed at this ingenuity, touting Vitamix’s move as a first for the show. Organizers expect other brands to take advantage of this space in the future.
“Get out front with the people,” is one of Ken Krogue’s “17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events.” Krogue, of InsideSales.com, continues, “Don’t be caught sitting…. You can rest later.” Vitamix also succeeded at another piece of his advice:
“Follow up immediately. Real time is optimum, 5 minutes is best practice, and 1 hour starts getting too late, a day later is way too late.”
In the spirit of fast follow-up, Vitamix used an iPad application at the booth that worked successfully to verify the visitor and then immediately email them the specific information that was requested.
Haefling was pleased with the results, adding, “There was quite a buzz going on at the show.”
Deepening Existing US Relationships in Chicago
Meanwhile, at the International Home + Housewares trade show in March, Vitamix is pursuing a different strategic objective. Of the over 20,000 buyers at this show, 15,000 represent US retailers, where the brand already has strong existing relationships. Vitamix’s primary objective is to have targeted meetings with these existing retail customers and deepen those relationships.
Most of the effort centers around private demos and meetings, where the retailer’s team and Vitamix team can meet and sample a smoothie or two. Krogue emphatically agrees with the strategy of setting appointments before a show, asserting, “We don’t go to an event if we can’t set enough appointments to pay for it in advance.”
This tale of two trade shows is instructive for B2B companies—treat each trade show as a unique opportunity and identify strategic objectives for the audiences you expect to find there. At times, there can be a tendency for brands to copy and paste their tactics from one event to the next, without thinking through the link to the strategic objectives. Moving from routine to productive and fun is possible, as Vitamix demonstrates. Developing individual strategies will help each show be “the best of times”… and not “the worst of times.”